Small Advertisers Took the Biggest Losses During Facebook’s Recent Outage



Last week’s major Facebook outage affected several of its platforms and millions of its users. Among its biggest losers: small businesses and advertisers.


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Last week’s long and vaguely explained Facebook outage left millions of users globally without reliable access to not only the main platform but also other Facebook-owned properties like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger. It was an inconvenience for countless people, but for advertisers, it hurt a bottom line – and that pain was especially pronounced for small businesses.

During the massive “server configuration change” that rendered the platforms inaccessible, previously purchased ad campaigns couldn’t be reliably seen, nor could they be paused should an advertiser wish to delay them until they were guaranteed visibility. Social Outlier’s David Hermann told AdWeek, “advertisers were charged thousands of dollars for ads that ran during the outage”; those ads running largely unseen amounted to “an absolute mess” for small businesses, for whom an ad spend removes precious funding from the coffers. A commonly cited loss among advertisers and media buyers was $10,000, though Hermann mentioned one who spent $17,000. “For a small business, that’s a pretty big hit.”

The Verge correctly notes that Facebook “anticipates events like this and doesn’t charge advertisers for campaigns unless specific results are achieved,” which means that individual ad buyers likely don’t lose actual revenue during outages or challenges like this. But for smaller media buyers (whose payment depends on these ads reaching their set objectives) this hurts their ability to be effective. And as the second biggest online ad buyer next to Google, it’s perfectly reasonable to hope that communication from – and refund processing by – the company would be easier to come by.

The lack of communication from Facebook was especially frustrating to The Verge’s T.C. Sottek, who wondered aloud with colleagues “how it was possible that the largest and most influential technology company in the world could have a day-long service disruption and basically say nothing about it except for a curt and cryptic tweet.” Voy Media’s Kevin Urrutia mentioned he “felt hopeless watching campaigns that he was unable to pause charge advertisers,” with no explanation from the company for the problem. Larger media buyers, who understandably provide a larger share of Facebook’s ad revenue, reported a far different experience of regular updates. This differentiation should be troubling for small businesses.

Another troubling observation? It doesn’t feel like Facebook has an incentive to alter this mentality. “Buyers said they don’t usually shift their budgets when events like this happen, which may explain why the problems persist,” Digiday reported in October 2018, after the previous record outage of the Facebook Ad Manager platform. That is to say, if advertisers won’t leave the platform after these sorts of incidents, what reason does Facebook have to change their tune—or apologize for the sour notes they seem to be hitting with increasing regularity as a company? There may not be a clear answer to this question, but advertisers and media buyers are ready to bury the proverbial hatchet whenever Facebook is. “We love Facebook, but it’s just one of those things,” Urrutia told AdWeek. Turning his focus to the platform for a moment, he went on: “It’d be nice if you were nicer to your advertisers.”

In addition to the Paid Social Summit, Social Media Week New York will feature several sessions on how to make the most of your social ad buys. There’s still time to join us next month at a discount off the walkup price!

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